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The TRL Scale as a

Research & Innovation Policy Tool,

EARTO Recommendations

30 April 2014

Introduction .............................................................................................................................. 2

1. Understanding Technology Readiness Levels ......................................................................... 3

1.1. Different Approaches in Different Organisations ......................................................................... 3
1.2. Different Ways to Define Readiness at EU Level ......................................................................... 5
1.3. Limitations of the Use of TRLs and the Need for Adaptation ......................................................... 5
1.4. The View of EARTO on the Use of TRLs ..................................................................................... 6

2. RTOs are Active throughout the TRLs scale............................................................................ 8

2.1. RTOs Bridging the Valley of Death ............................................................................................ 8
2.2. RTOs Add Value at Every Level of the TRLs Scale ....................................................................... 9
2.3. RTOs Supporting EU Industrys Competitiveness ...................................................................... 10
2.4. RTOs Specific Contribution to Higher TRLs ............................................................................... 12

3. Examples of RTOs Working Along The Whole Value Chain ................................................... 13

Conclusion ............................................................................................................................... 16

Annex 1: TRLs Overview Table ................................................................................................. 17


EARTO members are very active in National and European research, technology & innovation
programmes. In this capacity they have identified an increased use of the Technology Readiness Levels
(TRL) scale as a planning tool for innovation management. Having significant experience in innovation
creation and management, EARTO members wish to express their views on certain observed limitations
and challenges related to the use of TRL as a funding selection and review tool. As every tool, the TRL
scale has its strengths as well as its clear limitations. The assessment presented here will show that the
TRL scale clearly needs adaptations to fit the funding management purposes given today at EU level.
Adaptation is also needed to ensure proper decision-making processes when using the TRL scale based
on the reality of todays European research & innovation ecosystem.

Accordingly, EARTO members feel that the TRL scale should be better understood to allow its efficient use
in further planning of national and European research, technology & innovation policies and associated
funding programmes. In this context, the aim of this paper is to offer the EARTO members and the
broader RDI communitys understanding of this scale. RTOs are active throughout the scale and lead
projects in all TRL areas in collaboration with the industry at higher TRLs and academia at lower TRLs.

The European Commission is placing emphasis on interactions and convergence across and between the
different technologies, non-technological disciplines and their relations to societal challenges. Also user
needs will be taken into account in all the fields. Interaction between disciplines, trans-disciplinary
and user-centric approaches are all part of the everyday operation of RTOs. Hence, RTOs provide
the knowledge and expertise needed to solve societal challenges by binding various technologies
together, connecting one technology to various applications useful to different industrial contexts,
connecting technologies to non-technological disciplines allowing to take users perspective into account
as well as look at solutions bridging commercial interests and society needs.

Chapter 1 of this paper describes briefly the background of TRL development and its origins, including
some examples of its adaptation to different RDI environments. It is also noted, that TRLs actually in
principle exist also outside the Research & Development & Innovation (RDI) context. Most importantly,
Chapter 1 presents EARTO members view on the challenges related to the introduction of TRLs as a
funding and review or evaluation tool for research and innovation programmes.

Chapter 2 presents EARTO members understanding of the TRLs in their operational context. Further, it
demonstrates the role of RTOs in supporting Europes competitiveness and growth. Chapter 3 consists of
case examples further supporting the statements of Chapter 2.

Finally, this paper suggests possible ways to look at further adaptation of the TRL scale to best fit
European RDI funding programmes (summary table in annex 1).


Today, the TRLs scale is used as a tool for decision making on RDI investments at EU level. Proper
implementation of this scheme requires different ways of making this tool operational by adjusting the
definitions (or understanding) of the TRLs levels. The scale needs to be adapted to the specific purpose of
EU funding for RDI programmes as it does not address the well-known feedback mechanisms intrinsic to
innovation processes. This chapter provides an overview of the historical, conceptual and contextual
background to the TRL scale to allow further adaptation of the scale to fit the purpose of European

TRL originally developed by NASA to support planning of Space technologies

The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale was developed during the 1970-80s. The National
Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) introduced the scale as a discipline-independent, program
figure of merit (FOM) to allow more effective assessment of, and communication regarding the maturity
of new technologies1. In 1974, Stan Sadin developed the first 7 level scale, which was further refined
during the 1990s to the 9 level scale that has gained widespread acceptance across industry and
government. In the middle of the first decade after 2000, the scale was widely adopted as a system to
define the readiness of technologies throughout the international space development community.

The TRL scale was developed to enable assessment

of the maturity of a particular technology and the
consistent comparison of maturity between different
types of technologies. Although various other
management tools were already available for the
more business orientated readiness, no tool was
available to assess which stage of development a
technology was in. This proved to be a problem for
planning the development and construction of, for
example, the Space Shuttle. When, in 1981, the
Space Exploration Initiative was announced, there
was an even greater need for a systematic approach
to communicate the readiness of technology and
forecast implementation between the technological
research and mission planning community.
Hundreds of people were participating in research,
development, manufacturing and use of space technologies, and a clear mode of communication was
needed to manage these technology oriented activities.

The TRL scale has spread to other communities, but with significant adaptation

Today there is a clear focus on the commercialisation of research results. Therefore a tool to help
evaluate this process was clearly needed. This fostered the use and further adaptation of the TRLs scale
by communities other than space technology communities. For example, the TRL scale is used by various
organisations, from governmental departments like the US-DOD, US-DOE, ESA to large companies like
Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Indeed, it is the key element of many Technology Readiness Assessment
(TRA) methods. These organisations normally use the US-DOD definitions as a basis, but adapt the
precise definitions to suit their needs.


As described, the TRL scale originated from the observation that the R&D, operational, and planning
communities were faced with problems in communication and synchronisation of scales during technology
development for space systems. Development of high-tech technological systems typically depends on
the successful synchronised development of the individual technologies needed. If this synchronisation is
suboptimal, this will have performance, scheduling and budgetary consequences1. The successful
development of an innovative system depends highly on the successful management of the alignment of
these individual technology pathways.

Assessment of the readiness of the individual technologies will allow risk reduction in budget and
planning. This observation was the starting point for the development of the TRL scale and is one of the
drivers for its continued use in technology commercialisation and R&D planning. Today it includes the 9
levels (NASA version)2 shown in the table above.

Mankins JC (2009), Technology readiness assessments: A retrospective, Acta Astronautica 65 12161223, Pergamon.
United States Department of Defence (2011), Technology Readiness Assessment (TRA)-guidance Washington.
Original TRL scale is based on assumption that innovation process is linear

The TRL scale uses a linear approach to research, development and implementation that is common to
the prevailing view of innovation in early 1970s. The core object of development is a singular technology
(component) that is developed and integrated with other technologies in a broader high-tech, complex
product (Mission operation). Both aspects are a natural consequence of the fact that the TRL scale
originates within the environment of space systems development.

Although having its flaws, the TRL scale is widely used; but it is often adapted to the specific needs of an
organisation. An example of this adaption of the TRL approach to the specific needs of the organisation
can be found in the US-Department of Health and Human services 3, see Figure 2. The TRL scale is used
as an evaluation and planning mechanism to assess the maturity of a drug and allow communication on
the status of a specific drug. Although the TRL scale is adopted to assess the readiness of Medical
Countermeasure Products, an adaptation is made to fill the needs of the organisation. It is clear that the
wording and definition of the individual levels are different, but the basic 9 level TRL scale is used.
Several other examples of this more biomedical adaption can be found, e.g. by NATO and the US-DOD.

Figure 2: Adapted definition of the TRL scale

used by the US Department of Health and Human services.

A second type of adaptation can be found in the Guide to TRA published by the US Department of
Energy4. In this guide, more biotechnology and energy based aspects are incorporated. Although the 9
levels are still visible, the description again for each level is slightly different, as shown in Figure 3. An
example is TRL6: Engineering/pilot-scale, similar (prototypical) system validation in relevant
environment. The US-DoE uses TRL6 as relative levels of technological development, using the
different types of R&D taking place during the TRLs, i.e.:
The first stage includes basic technology research and covers both the observation of basic
principles as well as the first formulation of the technology concept.
The second stage focuses on research to prove feasibility and takes the technology concept
through first experiments.
During the third stage technology is developed in a laboratory environment, but still focusing on
the basic technological components.
The following stage is about technology demonstration; taking the technology out of the
laboratory and into the operational environment.
In the stage of System commissioning, the prototype is tested, validated and demonstrated,
finalizing the development of the technology and making it fully operational.
The last stage is the stage of system operation, where the technology is operating on full
operational conditions.

Figure 3: Adaptation of the TRL scale by US-DoE

introducing 6 levels of technological development

Technology readiness levels are often grouped to produce a more concise scale/classification

This approach to integrate several TRL levels is also used by several other organisations. The OECD
distinguishes 4 research levels: Basic research (TRL1-3), Development (TRL3-5), Demonstration (TRL 6-
7), and Early deployment (TRL8-9)5. Also the European Investment Bank (EIB), distinguishes only
between Research (TRL1-3), Development (TRL 3-6), Innovation (TRL6-8) and Production support
(TRL9). The conclusion can be drawn that the distinction between 9 scales is often considered too
granular and consolidation to broader classifications is found to be a more practical application of the

United States Department of Energy (2011), Technology Readiness Assessment Guide, Washington.
P Ekins (2010), Environmental and Eco-Innovation: Concepts, Evidence and Policies, OECD, Paris.

Initiated by findings of the High Level Expert Group on Key Enabling Technologies (HLG-KET), the
European Commission has recently adopted the TRL scale, see Figure 4. In 2011, an early study on KETs6
recommended that the TRL scale be used as tool for assessing the results and expectation of the
projects. This was taken up by the first HLG-KET and posed as a recommendation for the use of the TRL
scale to align its RDI activities and balance technological research, product development and
demonstration activities within their RDI portfolio7. This was adopted by the European Commission and
included in their 2012 Communication on KETs8.

Figure 4: The TRL scale adapted to the KETs HLG three pillar-bridge model

However, in the Communication on KETs it also becomes apparent that different definitions and criteria
are applied to RDI funding, showing that different policy instruments use different approaches. The
previously mentioned consolidated classification from the EIB is an example, but also the European
Regional Development Fund (ERDF) uses a different scale, distinguishing between basic research,
technical & applied research, pilot lines/early product validation actions/advanced manufacturing
capabilities, and first production. Many RDI instruments use different approaches to distinguish between
the different phases in technology development.
Table 1:

Assessment of the maturity of technology is used in

different EU instruments in various ways
Horizon 2020 work programs (e.g., Draft work programme
2014 2015 NMP) now make use of the TRL scale to make
decision on which type of projects to be funded with the
proposed TRL level given in call descriptions and (potentially)
for use in evaluation. The scale used is included in the table 1.
At this stage, despite its inclusion, no sound definition of the
individual levels has yet been fully explained and exemplified.
It is clear that the adaptation gives little attention to the
manufacturing challenges, although in TRL9 the element of
competitive manufacturing has been included. The EC
adaptation still implicitly focuses on a single technology. The
aspect of research solutions that will need various technologies
is not addressed and such activities are not described. In lieu
of adequate definition and exemplification, the scheme is open
to interpretation and can hinder communication rather than
facilitate it.


In the previous section, a few different approaches were shown concerning how different organisations
use the TRL scale. But there are limitations to this approach which are described below.

Lack of attention to setbacks in technology maturity

The risk for setbacks in maturity as a crucial characteristic of RDI processes was first integrated in a
model in 1986 through the Chain Linked Model9 and described in several OECD manuals10. In contrast to
the implicit linear character of the TRL scale, these feedback models show that research is needed even
at the higher TRL levels, i.e. that an increase in maturity also requires additional research. Thus, a

PB Larsen, E Van de Velde; E Durinck, HN Piester, L Jakobsen & H Shapiro (2011), Cross-sectoral Analysis of the Impact of
International Industrial Policy on Key Enabling Technologies, DTI & Idea Consult, Copenhagen.
HLG-KET (2011), Final report, Brussels.
European Commission (2012), A European strategy for Key Enabling Technologies A bridge to growth and jobs, Brussels.
Kline (1985). Research, Invention, Innovation and Production: Models and Reality, Report INN-1, March 1985, Mechanical Engineering
Department, Stanford University.
TEP report (1986), OECD, Paris.
technology in the stage of pilot production can be thrown back momentarily to the stage of technological
feasibility (and require research), as flaws in the product design emerged because of problems in

Single technology maturity approach

This limitation is related to another core characteristic of the TRL scale, i.e. its focus on a single
technology. As the primary use of the TRL scale is to align different technology developments through
communication, the lower levels concern one single technology by definition. However, the higher TRL
levels (e.g. TRL8: System completed and qualified), are about integrating different individual
technologies, with different maturities into complex products. This means that the original TRL scale is
not used to assess maturity of a system (e.g. the Space Shuttle), but is focused on one of its components
(e.g. a mirror in the Space Shuttle). This complicates the application of the higher TRL to projects which
are typically about complex solutions rather than component development.

Focus on product development, rather than manufacturability, commercialisation and

organisational changes

The original TRL scale was about product oriented technologies. However, in some TRL adaptations, e.g.
manufacturing is also incorporated, such as the ARPA-E guide11. Further, attention to non-technological
aspects, like the readiness of an innovation to go to market and the readiness of an organisation to
implement the innovation, are not incorporated. If the purpose shifts from planning and communication
to a broader objective such as assessing eligibility to access specific funding, these aspects should also be
part of the activities that can be funded (e.g., assessment of economic feasibility). Indeed, this has been
recognised in the recent Horizon 2020 program in that mid to high TRL programs are also asked to
provide a business plan for future development.

Context specificity of TRL scales

Although the TRL scale has proven to be useful for different organisations, the conclusion can be drawn
that actual purpose and use differ. The scale can be used for planning and communication purposes, but
also as a supporting tool for decision making on investments. Thus, different purposes lead to different
operational needs. Usually this is done by adjusting the definitions of the levels, i.e. the scale needs to be
adapted to the specific purpose of the organisation.


EARTO believes that the TRL scale can be of added value to assess the eligibility of innovation projects
based on their maturity. However, the analysis above shows that the TRL scale requires adaptation
before it can be used within a specific context. The Horizon 2020 context is no exception, especially when
the original purpose of the TRL scale as a communication and planning tool does not apply.

First the use of the TRLs scale as evaluation tool must be explored. This must be related to the different
funding mechanisms for research and innovation existing today. The overall basic distinction in such R&I
funding mechanisms is provided by our European State Aid Rules. Within the State Aid Rules, a
distinction is made between different activities and different funding intensities, i.e.: Fundamental
research (100% funding), Industrial research (50% funding), and Experimental development (25%
funding). In addition to these basic distinctions in R&I activities, the receiver of the support can also have
an impact on the level of funding, i.e.: large organisations, SMEs, joint activities. With regard to the TRL
scale, the TRL levels should also reflect the limitations set by the State Aid Rules.

Secondly, a discussion of the Valley of Death is relevant, as this is ostensibly the reason why the TRL
scale has been adopted by the European Commission (i.e. the shift of funding towards
commercialisation). This asks for explicit attention to pilot production in which scale up of a prototype
towards low-rate mass manufacturing is funded. It underpins the need to make a distinction between
three different research activities, i.e.: fundamental, industrial, and experimental, but also requires
specific attention to manufacturability and readiness of manufacturing technologies.

The third step is to look at the observations described in the previous section and assess their
The setback mechanisms need to be incorporated, as their exclusion would mean that when (not
if!) they occur, funding of specific activities would be (temporarily) stopped, leading to
unnecessary destruction of capital. The implication is that in every stage certain kinds of R&D
should be incorporated.

As a new innovation usually is built up from different technologies, the scaling should make a
distinction between R&D on individual technologies, integration of those technologies and pilot
production. The manufacturing technologies needed, can be seen as just another technology.
Innovation is not about technology (product and process) alone. Financial and organisational
activities can be crucial to commercial success. These should be incorporated into the definitions,
broadening the TRL scale. The development of accompanying services is just one example.

Thus, regarding the definitions of the 9 levels, an integrative approach (combining different technologies
and addressing market and organisational issues) should be adopted. The different stages in maturity
should be aligned to the various ways governments can support RDI activities. In the scale,
manufacturability should also incorporated. A full description of the EARTO TRL scale is included in Annex
1 with a summary in Figure 5.

Figure 5: EARTO reading on the TRL scales, incorporating manufacturability and including
non-technological aspects in a multi-technology adaptation.

Using this approach, it becomes clear that Invention is part of fundamental research, with Concept
validation being its natural extension allowing early participation from industrial partners. Prototyping &
incubation can be seen as an integral step towards industrial research and Pilot production &
demonstration aspects of experimental development. Finally Full market introduction and Market
expansion are fully commercial activities and normally part of the commercial risks companies take.

The only further issue to discuss is the multi- Figure 6: 2D approach to the TRL scale, showing
technological aspect that is not addressed by the TRL three basic routes in the development of an
scale. The TRL model is excellent for planning the innovation.
evolution of the technology steps for a product from
idea to commercialization. However, in particular
many KET products depend on the availability of a
(key) enabling technology with its own evolution from
idea to maturity. Sometimes such products are called
multi-KET or cross-KET products. A multi-technology
approach is needed to address this issue. This can be
seen in Figure 6 where two technologies are
positioned in a matrix. In this 2D TRL model we
encounter the main TRL for the product itself as well
as a support TRL for a supportive technology, like a
manufacturing technology. Different routes can be
followed. If a technology development focuses on a
product oriented technology, the maturity of the
manufacturing technology (or other product
technology) is already high (2). An example is a new
industrial biotech product, based on state-of-the-art
production technology. In another case, the product
already makes use of well researched technologies
that must be applied, but manufacturing is still
requires significant development (1). Alternatively, both the product and manufacturing technologies
must be developed (3).

A multi-technology process, cannot be modelled with a simple linear approach

Previously EU innovation programs focused on TRL level 1-3/4. Today focus has shifted to the higher TRL
levels. However, individual funding of innovation projects close to TRL 9 cannot be considered
appropriate, partly due to the application of the State-Aid rules, which is critical to be able to support
commercialization. However, this limitation is also partly due to the fact that a linear application of the
TRL scale does not recognize that a product in a high TRL can be accompanied by manufacturing
technologies that are still stuck in lower TRL levels. The required help to support further R&I
developments needed to manufacture this product (low TRL levels) will then not be taken into account.
This can potentially lead to problems in the commercialization of products as even if those products are
fully developed there will not be market up-take.

One might argue that in practice there will be many support technologies that must evolve
simultaneously to higher maturities and that the model must be multi-dimensional. For practical reasons
we assume that only one supporting technology is on a critical path to influence a main TRL. The purpose
of the 2D model is to illustrate the complexity of innovation projects.


RTOs have a clear role in translating research across the entire TRL scale, in co-operation with existing
and emerging industries and academia, from idea to application. Taking an idea from the drawing board
through demonstrations, pilots, and practical development hurdles to commercial success requires
expertise and infrastructures that RTOs possess and that are heavily used by European industries and
national governments already today.


During the last few years, the European Commission has paid much attention to developing a strategy to
make Europe more attractive for investments in research, technology, innovation and manufacturing.
Currently Europe appears to suffer from a slow process for transferring excellent research and
development results into innovative solutions for the markets. That is, Europe needs to improve in
bridging this so called Valley of Death (Figure 7). As seen above, the TRL scale has been adopted to
facilitate this endeavour.

Bridging the valley of death is a joint effort between Industry and RTOs

As a consequence of on-going discussions, a lot of emphasis has been given to the role of industry in
fostering sustainable growth in Europe. Funding schemes that would allow industry to obtain funding for
closer to market activities for the higher TRL
Figure 7: KETs Valley of Death levels have been put in place. It should,
from the EU HLG KETs Final Report 2011 however, be made clear that bridging the
valley of death requires a joint effort from
research and industry. The input of RTOs, in
terms of knowledge, highly skilled resources
and research activities, is necessary to ensure
the successful translation of research results
into commercial products and services.
RTOs play a key role in supporting the
development of dedicated research and
development infrastructures for large industry
as well as SMEs. Existing industries may have
a number of production facilities but those are
rarely suitable for research and development
of new technologies. Industry research
infrastructures are typically designed to
analyse and develop existing solutions
incrementally and may not be adaptable to piloting new technologies. When developing the readiness of a
manufacturing process for a new technology together with the development of the product itself, it is
necessary to enable scaling of production amounts from single demonstrators to small series. This is
often possible only in dedicated research and development infrastructures rather than existing production
and/or research lines.

Bridging the valley of death also means solving societal challenges

The European Commission is placing emphasis on

interactions and convergence across and between the
different technologies, non-technological disciplines and
their relations to societal challenges. User needs will also
be taken into account in all fields. RTOs core activities are
based on interactions between disciplines, trans-
disciplinary and user-centric approaches. Hence, RTOs
provide the knowledge and expertise needed to solve
societal challenges by binding various technologies
together, connecting one technology to various
applications useful to different industrial contexts,
connecting technologies to non-technological disciplines incorporating the user perspective into
development while looking at solutions that could bridge commercial interests and societal needs. RTOs
also provide a resource of specialized and highly skilled personnel and know how, without which the
bridging between so many different disciplines & knowledge necessary to solve societal challenges would
not be possible.


Realising EU competitiveness and growth objectives requires covering technology development from
near-basic research to commercially viable solutions available on the market. This means covering
technology readiness from level 1 to 9. RTOs are active at all of these levels and there is ample evidence
concerning their contribution (see selected examples in Chapter 3) in helping industry take the crucial
step from one level to another.

Let us first outline the 5 main contributions from RTOs to EU Industrys competitiveness which
can be summarised as follows:
1. RTOs are active in translating basic research into applicable solutions. For example, basic
research produces information on how allergic reaction proceeds in humans and RTOs can take
this information and use it to develop vaccine technology.
2. RTOs house various research infrastructures benefitting many stakeholders (universities,
new enterprises, SMEs, large enterprises). For example, a single research infrastructure can be
used for completely new technology piloting and spin-off incubation, for testing changes in an
existing product, and for validating an emerging concept as a collaborative action of several
industrial players. Multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches are key strengths of RTOs when
developing solutions for societal challenges.
3. RTOs perform foresight and support policymaking (e.g. identification of emerging
technologies worth investing in, from an economic and societal point of view). Based on this,
RTOs build consortiums needed to further develop these opportunities in concrete products,
processes, solutions and services. RTOs also perform further research on possible societal
implications. RTO collaboration brings together different industrial players across the value chains
and value networks, to collaborate and interact. In this context, technology assessment is an
important part of RTO activities to support policymakers with policy development.
4. RTOs help develop existing products and processes to better suit industry and
consumer needs. RTOs house competence which is needed to take the user point of view into
account when developing products, processes, and services. For example, the importance of a life
cycle approach in product design is increasing and thus it is important to understand the users
perspective when launching new products.
5. RTOs train and educate experts to provide expertise and human resources for other research
organisations, industry and government. This is crucial to fulfil the needs of these organisations
for high-skilled personnel.

With this in mind, the following paragraphs further explain how RTOs engage in the different TRL levels
as illustrated in Figure 9.

From TRL 1 to TRL 3, the close connection of RTOs to industry gives them first-hand information on the
needs of industry and thus the ability to create innovative concepts of industrial relevance. Further, the
close connection of RTOs to academia gives them access to state-of-the-art scientific development and
the expertise to make the translation from academic results towards applications. RTOs research and
development infrastructure plays a key role in the formulation of the technology scale as well as in the
experimental proof of concept for RDI in existing industries, start-ups, spin-offs, SMEs, and large
enterprises seeking growth and/or renewal.

From TRL 4 to TRL 7, this is believed to be the most prominent RTOs area. Also here, RTOs typically do
not work alone but in collaboration with industrial partners including SMEs, academia and other RTOs.
RTOs support the crossing of the valley of death in R&D by providing different physical research
infrastructures, expertise, and their unique multidisciplinary approach. Further, RTOs support this
crossing by their knowledge of industrial environments, practicalities, and limitations allowing them to be
the ideal project lead in certain situations. In this area RTOs typically support existing companies in
developing their ideas towards real-world applications. RTOs also develop ideas perhaps originating from
basic research or their preceding research towards spin-offs and solutions for industry needs. The
creation of whole new industries cannot happen without experience of the entire TRL chain. Technology
assessment supports the further shaping of innovations that are more accepted by society.

From TRL 8 to 9, RTOs often perform Figure 9: RTOS ADD VALUE AT EVERY TRL LEVEL
foresight activities that are needed, for
example, when introducing new
technologies to market. These studies
are part of analysing the operational
environment and the introduction of
emerging technology to it. Activities here
are mainly performed by industrial
partners with a support of RTOs (see
Chapter 3); but for a non-commercial
application (space for instance), RTOs
have the research facilities to allow the
development of specific products or
systems proven in an operational
environment. Also various user
experience studies and analyses are
performed by RTOs to support the
deployment of technology in its actual
operational environment. Demonstration
in operational environments may,
especially in the case of new
technologies and new manufacturing,
require fine-tuning on-site. Here RTOs
have a supporting role and research is
used to find the final settings.

EARTO understands that various

discussions are running currently at EU
level related to the following question:
up to which TRL level should EU
Research & Innovation funding
programmes support industrial activities.
We believe this is an issue the European
Commission should carefully evaluate, also in relation to State-aid restrictions. EARTO members will be
happy to support the European commission services discussions on this issue.


RTOs are significant contributors in R&D related to the key enabling technologies (KETs) that at the EU
level are seen as being strongly connected to regaining Europes industrial leadership, e.g. individual
KETs: nanotechnology, micro & nano-electronics, photonics, advanced materials, industrial
biotechnology, and advanced manufacturing systems and cross-cutting KETs

RTOs supporting (existing & large) industry by enabling commercial success

Existing industries and large enterprises looking for renewal or product/process improvements rely on
RTOs broad understanding of technology, view to the market, and intellectual property rights. The
financial situation has forced many enterprises to downscale their in-house research. Competences are
therefore not only limited but also typically very focused on the existing business, and inadequate for
developing new technologies or exploiting new opportunities (e.g. understanding user needs related to a
new technology or product, or the manufacturing process and implications of such).
Here RTOs have solid knowledge on related non-technological issues - human behaviour, service
innovations, technology transfer, market developments, innovation policy and industry-related sectorial
policies, and even epidemiology - necessary for staying competitive in the markets and supporting
existing industries and large enterprises in Europe.

RTOs supporting SMEs supplying into the value chain of large industry by offering them
industry relevant or operational environment in the form of a shared facility

Today we have value chains with multiple partners where an SME partner can be a material, a
component/subassembly or an equipment supplier to another enterprise that is or will deliver a final end
product to the market. There exists today a market mismatch where the SME as a smaller entity does not
have all the facilities needed to demonstrate the maturity/readiness of their product. Without such
facilities they cannot readily become further involved in the value chain associated with their product.
Here RTOs play a specific role in supporting SMEs to close the gap (valley of death) in their specific value
chain by using research and development facilities, set up and managed by RTOs up to the higher TRLs.
SMEs rarely have the funds to invest in extensive research and development infrastructure in terms of
equipment, time, and/or personnel. They typically struggle with access to knowledge and connecting with
existing innovation ecosystems. Further, the construction and operation of research infrastructure also
often requires a different competence from those essential for running an SME. For SMEs, RTOs can offer
access to an industry relevant or operational environment in the form of a shared facility. This allows the
SME to test and validate products and processes on a neutral site that can also provide customized
research support in an independent manner.

With the trend by enterprises to outsource not only the repetitive supply of components or materials but
also the development (design & engineering) of it, SME companies have to evolve to another business
model. Being used for short-term orders and direct payments after delivery, SMEs now have to invest
upfront and earn return on the investment later on during the subsequent repetitive supply period. An
SME today will not have the financial means for such an investment, let alone all the skills, capabilities
and facilities needed in the different TRL phases. RTOs have technological infrastructures and facilities as
well as trained personnel, and can operate shared or open relevant pilot environments. SMEs can then
timeshare or use the RTO facilities under various conditions adapted to their need when and where it
becomes apparent.

There exists a second use of RTOs in TRL phases from 4-8. If you are an equipment supplier to multiple
large end product manufacturers or a materials supplier with a new material you have to prove the
benefits of your product to your customers; but, you do not easily have access to full-scale production, or
only restricted access this may sometimes even block your ability to sell the same solution to multiple
clients. Having access to open or shared environments at RTO is a solution. Further, such suppliers
cannot operate a complete relevant pilot production environment or might need an independent
organization that can validate the results. Thus, being able to demonstrate the solution of an SME within
a relevant, open or shared pilot environment is of commercial value for them.

RTOs supporting new entrepreneurs, start-ups and creators of spin-offs

RTOs also play an important role in the initiation of new tech-based companies in which new
entrepreneurs take a technological invention to market. The developed technological inventions, based on
applied research, can be interesting for existing enterprises, but also lead to spin-off activities.
New enterprises are then established and
new entrepreneurs supported by broader
Figure 8: Different stages of entrepreneurship, different
incubation programs to find seed money,
funding mechanisms
create business models, produce
prototypes, assess IP issues, connect to
industry and finally create a company that
produces new and innovative products.
Many European RTOs have created such
programs, owned by RTOs but often placed
outside their organization to support the
skills and networks needed to spin-off

Starting under the umbrella of the RTO,

often still partially owned by the RTO, the
first steps in the new enterprise are made
to transform the invention into a
commercial innovative product. In this
way, the research and development
created by an RTO is valorised in economic
activities. The core activity of those start-
ups/spin-offs can be both manufacturing of
products and/or provision of services.

The RTOs spin-off activity is of high importance: economic assessments show that about 65% of all new
jobs emerge from new start-up companies, they also show that RTOs supported spin-offs are generally
much more successful in the market than start-ups not being backed by a RTO. In these activities, RTOs
cooperate with other stakeholders like Venture Capitalists, other incubator organizations, academic
organizations, industry and governments to both support the creation of new businesses and jobs as well
as valorise the outcomes of their own research and development.

RTOs supporting regional, national governments to define their strategic orientations

RTOs support the industry to move forward in commercialization of new innovative products on the
market, but they also support the development of new innovative solutions that address todays societal
challenges when the market fails to do so.

Accordingly, in addition to supporting industrial competitiveness, RTOs provide independent advice to

their local, regional and/or national governments. By combining the knowledge built partly while
supporting the industry and partly developed in collaboration with academia, RTOs are capable of
providing expert vision on todays societal challenges combining at the same time technical knowledge on
possible (new) solutions not yet developed or picked up by the industry who must manage their specific
economic interests.

As such, RTOs are often independent advisers for their governments. This makes RTOs key players in
economic development. RTOs are capable of identifying the potential of new technology developments
(technology foresight) as solutions to societal challenges that may not have been yet identified by the
industry as their key priority and that will not be picked up directly by the market then (i.e. market
failure). Such capacity allows the RTOs to be key advisers to their governments in making choices related
to key governmental investments related for examples to ageing of population, climate change, mobility,
etc. Also advising governments on effective measures to speed up innovation based on their experience
of industrial innovation is of added value.

In this role, we see RTOs as great supporters for the crossing of the valley of death also in areas not
covered by industrial interests, facilitating the development of technical solutions and later on the
production of products by bringing different types of public and private stakeholders together to solve
societal challenges. Transformation management applying a systemic approach can only be implemented
in collaboration. As such RTOs are supporting local, regional or national development of public-public or
public-private partnerships targeting societal challenges. In this context, it is not surprising to see that
RTOs are very often the independent party in such partnerships, elaborating new innovative technical
solutions and transforming them into new products commercialized by already existing industry or by
new spin-offs.


In summary, RTOs develop innovations in close collaboration with (large & small) industry. Today, RTOs
also operate as new business incubators and produce spin-offs. RTOs work not only by creating new
business (solutions) based on inventions from within but also by supporting new entrepreneurs. For SME
innovation processes, RTOs research and development infrastructure may be the only way forward
offering both technological expertise and the infrastructure to prototype, test and validate inventions.
Large enterprises looking for renewal or product/process improvements rely on RTOs broad
understanding of technology, view to the markets, and intellectual property rights. RTOs also provide
expert independent advice to their local, regional and national governments, supporting them in deciding
necessary next steps towards solving todays societal challenges. As a consequence, RTOs are quite
versatile and adaptive, aiming at finding the best innovative techno-economic solutions throughout the
whole TRL scale with a variety of partners aiming at keeping industry competitive while solving rather
than exacerbating societal challenges.


Low volume mass manufacturing is a necessary step before entering the big markets

Besides access to a specific infrastructure or pilot line, some RTOs pilot environments provide companies
the possibility for low volume manufacturing preceding high volume mass manufacturing this is
especially valuable for SMEs!. This is, for example, essential in the electronics sector where large volume
manufacturing is outsourced to a specialized company giving preference to high volume sales. This leaves
SMEs in the waiting mode to see when their product can be processed. Suitable pilot environments
enabling SMEs to enter the market more rapidly, gives them a competitive advantage they would
otherwise miss. Also, in highly specialized components or systems with limited market volumes, a low
volume manufacturing facility can help an innovation needed by larger companies to enter the market.

At higher TRLs, the need for specialized & highly skilled personnel is high

At higher TRLs the need for specialized and highly skilled personnel and know how is high. RTOs can not
only provide support in the form of contract research but also valuable training for company employees
or even be a source from which companies can attract the human capital they need to make their
innovation successful.
RTO knowhow supports user-driven product and service development

RTO knowhow on user-driven development serves industry entering the markets at the higher TRL levels.
Service research performed by RTOs is also necessary when companies are looking for new ways of
serving their clients as RTOs typically are familiar with the existing procedures and their limitations. RTOs
foresight activities are relevant both at higher TRLs (how will markets and users respond to a product or
change in service model?) as well as at lower levels (what are the trends among users, policies?).

Technology infrastructure supporting simultaneous development of multiple product

generations at varying TRL levels

An environment capable of producing (in the near future) real products is a pilot line that addresses the
so-called pre-production phase. It seems logical to state that technological infrastructures in general
might be mapped onto TRL 5-6 and pre-production environments on TRL 7-8, while TRL 1-4 are generally
related to laboratory environments, whether owned by RTOs, academia, or industry. Clearly TRL 5-6 are
not exclusive for RTOs. Industry also has environments with technological developments in TRL 5-6. It
must also be noted, that a pilot environment may be used to support product/technology development on
scales 1 to 9, and thus placing the environment itself on the TRL scale does not always make sense. If
one would define the current commercial technology to be named generation N, then at the same time
the development of generation N+1 is in progress and in the lab environment the initial work on
generation N+2 has already been started. All three generations might claim access to the same
technological infrastructure. In practice this would lead to time-sharing the infrastructure. In other words,
you can encounter technologies at different TRL in any given technological infrastructure.


RTOs are organisations involved in research, technology and development working in close cooperation
with the industry outside the sphere of higher education managed by their partner universities with
whom they can share facilities on a high-tech campus as well as personnel (part-time Professors and
hosted PhD students). RTOs are hybrid organisations between two worlds: the industry & higher
education. RTOs challenge is to combine knowledge of those two worlds in order to develop innovative
solutions supporting both private industry competitiveness and answering public societal challenges.
RTOs balance every day between various spheres of interests: between public-private interests on the
one hand and science-applied research on the other. Thanks to this hybrid position between those
sometimes conflicting spheres, RTOs have developed a strong position at the intersection of those worlds
being able to understand multiple viewpoints and they actively bridge gaps while retaining an
independent position. As such they are key partner for both industry and policy makers, able to provide
independent advice and solutions along the value chain, and consequently along the TRL scale. The
following examples have been chosen to show RTO activities bridging public and private interests,
basic and applied science, creating public or private innovative solutions.

New printed intelligence into PrintoCent pilot factory

The idea of printed intelligence originated

from RTOs and companies rather than
from basic research. Idea development
required formulation of the scale (What
kind of material can be used as ink? What
kind of components would be needed? On
what kind of material can the inks be
printed?). All of those were crucial
questions that needed to be answered
before massive pilot lines could be thought
of. Nowadays this research has led to a
whole new industrial branch. After basic
scales of printing process and materials
were assessed, the actual components
were designed and constructed at VTT in
Oulu in order to validate the technology.
First product ideas were formulated and a
manufacturing line for their pilot production prepared. The research and development work has led to a
unique collection of several pilot production that enable even piloting mass production. Several product
families have been tested (photovoltaics, bio-based printable power sources, printable diagnostics). A
total of 14 spin-off companies have been or are currently supported by the pilot facility, and new ideas
and refinements are constantly developed.
LUMBIA, Re-education system against low back pain

Low Back Pain (LBP) is the leading cause

of activity limitation and work absence
throughout much of the world. Tecnalia,
by means of the FIK initiative (private
fund for R&D) and with the crucial
contribution of the company BTS
Bioengineering, has created LUMBIA, a
wearable postural re-education device
based on electromyography (EMG), for the
assessment, prevention and treatment of
low back pain. It acts by alerting the user
via on-spot vibro-tactile feedback, when
the unaided muscular activation pattern is
not adequate. As an assessment tool,
LUMBIA is a non-invasive tool that can be
used during educational interventions,
back training programs, cognitive behavioral treatment plans and multidisciplinary bio- psychosocial
rehabilitation plans. In order to be able to bring a device to the market in the EU, the device must meet
the essential requirements of the Medical Devices Directive as well as the standards related to its device
class. For the US market, any new product needs to meet the Food and Drug Administrations
requirements. This step is currently being done by BTS Bioengineering to reach a TRL level 8 stage before
full deployment in the market by BTS Bioengineering.

Innovative Production Process: Processed Biomass, from seed to heat

Lttra Farm Bioproducts is an agricultural

business which has been operating a
small-scale commercial briquetting plant
in Sweden since 1994. In light of
increasing woodchip prices and growing
competition for raw material, the plans to
start local production of reed canary grass
(RCG) briquettes began in 2003. Today,
the company has equipment to
incorporate RCG as raw material in
briquette production; but, more work was
needed to achieve an optimal production
chain for commercial operations. SP
Technical Research Institute of Sweden
has worked together with Lttra Farm and
local energy providers to develop and
optimize the production and briquetting of
RCG to achieve high-grade solid fuel which can be used in new and existing heating plants. Work is
continuing to further improve the efficiency production and briquetting as a sustainable use of processed
biomass from the field to commercial application in building heating.

Roll-to-Roll OLED & Solar PV Factory of the Future - technological infrastructure for shared
material supplier, equipment builders and manufacturer pilot use

At the Eindhoven Hightech Campus the

Solliance building is a factory of the future
type of pilot line where materials
suppliers, equipment builders and
producers of OLED (organic LED)/SolarPV
devices operate in a shared environment
set-up by a collection of RTOs supported
by universities. The roll-2-roll environment
is meant for OLED and Solar PV production
with a focus on low-cost products for
energy applications (sustainable electricity
generation and lighting). To be successful
it needed to be shown that ultimately the
products can be manufactured at very low
cost levels meaning minimal usage of
material and a continuous flow production.
Remarkable is that RTOs worked together to realize this Future of Factory (FoF) pilot environment as a
technological infrastructure example. Together the RTOs realized a world-class environment that is
attractive for SME partners in combination with often large manufacturing companies. This environment
is currently being used to execute different research programs with several industrial partners.

Improved Railways Traffic Safety thanks to New Laser Scan

Laser systems can be used to implement

highly precise and ultra-fast measuring
processes. Railway measuring technology
has a huge worldwide need here. One
prerequisite for its use is that nobody is
damaged or suffers irritations by the laser.
Fraunhofer Institute for Physical
Measurement Techniques IPM has worked
to develop a 3D laser scanner. It can be
used outdoors without hesitation.
Extremely fast and precise, it is able to
spatially measure and monitor the position
of the contact wire or the track from a train
travelling up to 100 kilometers (62mph)
per hour. If the scanner is stationary, it can
capture passing trains and check for loads
that might have slipped. The laser system
has already been marketed and used
successful all over the world for rail traffic
safety. Not only fast and precise, this system is also highly robust.

CMORE, a New Smart Packaged Micro-system

Via its CMORE initiative, imec offers

companies all the services needed to turn
innovative ideas into smart packaged
microsystem products. The CMORE toolbox
contains a wide variety of device
technologies on 200mm (e.g. CMOS, Si-
photonics, MEMS, image sensors,
packaging, etc.) as well as design, testing
and reliability. One of the first projects was
the production of high-quality EUV sensors
for ASMLs next-generation lithography
tools. The sensors were processed
according to ASMLs custom designs and
specifications, with focus on superior
lifetime and sensitivity to direct and high
EUV irradiation doses. On this line imec
also works together with small companies in other areas like GaN. In this case, the RTO offers to SMEs
and large companies the ability to access a low volume manufacturing facility.

Lipidots, a new Nano-delivery Platform changing todays Cosmetics

On October 2013, CEA-Leti and Capsum

announced that the successful transfer of
Letis patented Lipidots nanovector
technology to Capsum for cosmetic
applications has produced the first
commercial use of the new technology.
Lipidots is a versatile nano-delivery
platform based on tiny droplets of oil for
encapsulating and carrying drugs or
fluorescent imaging agents to targeted
cells in the body for treatment or
diagnosis. Letis partnership with Capsum
shows that the technology is easily adapted
for applications in the cosmetics industry.
This successful technology transfer follows
more than seven years of collaboration
between Leti and Capsum that included development work on Lipidots.

The variety of examples clearly indicates that the definition of the TRL levels has to be interpreted
depending on the development it is applied to. Further, it should be noted that the role of RTOs at higher
TRL levels is more than just supporting a company towards commercialization. In some instances the
RTO can be seen as pivotal. In that sense all funding programs should be open to RTOs not only as active
participant but also as coordinators for projects with a broad industrial interest.


Today, the TRLs scale is used as a tool for decision making on R&D investments at EU level. This requires
different ways of making this tool
operational by adjusting the definitions (or
understanding) of the TRLs. EARTO hopes
that this paper provides interesting insights
on how this could be achieved.

The summary table of EARTO interpretation

of the TRL scale can be found again to the
right. It is hoped that this will be helpful for
policy makers to understand how they could
adapt the scale to their specific needs in the
various sub-programmes as well as see how
they could be supported by RTOs in setting-
up and implementing their programmes.
In addition, we hope that this paper
demonstrates clearly that RTOs have a clear
role in translating research across the entire
TRL scale in co-operation with existing and
emerging industries and academia, from
idea to application. Taking an idea from
drawing board through demonstrations,
pilots, and practical development hurdles to
commercial success requires expertise and
infrastructures that RTOs possess and which
is heavily used by European industries and
national governments today. Special
attention should be made to RTOs specific
inputs within the higher TRLs levels where
RTOs can, e.g. bring specific support to

Europes challenge today is to ensure that the new R&I programme, Horizon2020, will effectively allow
Europe to bridge the valley of death so easily visible on the TRL scale, to effectively support European
Industrial competitiveness. RTOs main contributions to support Europes industry to bridge this gap
1. RTOs support translating basic research into applicable scales and solutions.
2. RTOs house various research infrastructures, including multi-use research (prototype) and low-
rate manufacturing (test & Validation) facilities supporting piloting and pilot-production,
benefitting many: large enterprises, SMEs, universities and governments.
3. RTOs perform foresight and ideation actions that feed industrial strategies and and stimulate
political decision making.
4. RTOs help developing existing products and processes to better suit industry and consumer
5. RTOs train and educate experts to provide expertise and human resources for other research
organisations, industry and government.

Finally, bridging the valley of death comprises not only supporting our industry but also finding solutions
to Europes Societal Challenges. Answers to societal challenges will be found by placing emphasis on
interactions and convergence across and between the different technologies, non-technological disciplines
and their relations to various societal challenges taking users into account. Interaction between
disciplines, trans-disciplinary and user-centric approach are all part of the everyday operation of RTOs.
Hence, RTOs provide the knowledge and expertise needed to solve societal challenges by binding various
technologies together, connecting one technology to various applications useful to different industrial
contexts, connecting technologies to non-technological disciplines allowing to take users perspective into
account as well as look at solutions bridging commercial interests and society needs.